In 1984, The Squares guitarist Joe Satriani quietly put out a low-key instrumental EP on his own label, Rubina records. How limited was the release? An exact figure is hard to find, but original copies today run about $500. Four of the five tracks were reissued on Joe’s Time Machine album, but the fifth track’s master tape was damaged.
This is a release most people assumed they’d never own without parting with some serious dough. Then in 2014, for the 30th anniversary, the original Joe Satriani EP was reissued for Record Store Day. Unfortunately, due to the lack of liner notes, we don’t know how this was accomplished. The damaged track, “Talk To Me” is intact and sounds just fine. Was it sourced from an original vinyl? Was it restored? You can now experience a 180 gram “replication” of the original 1984 EP that started it all.
Guitar Player magazine went nuts for the EP, which is remarkably performed entirely on guitar. Every instrument you hear is a guitar. The “drums” are Joe tapping on his pickups. The “bass” is a detuned six string. The sound effects and other “instruments” are Joe wringing every sound he could think of from his instrument. It’s truly innovative. It’s even pretty listenable.
The record opens with “Talk To Me”, which could be seen as a precursor to Joe’s uptempo guitar anthems like “One Big Rush”. In fact, there’s a familiar lick in this track that Joe used as a main hook on Flying in a Blue Dream‘s “Back to Shalla-Bal”. This track, thought long lost, is probably the best of the five and most indicative of where Joe was headed.
“Dreaming Number Eleven” is an interesting song, with a suitably dream-like opening that soon gives way to a funky beat complete with “slap bass”. The experimental side of Joe manifests in the sound of a roaring train, all performed on guitar.
Side two commences with the light and tropical “Banana Mango”, a breezy track with blazing speed laid overtop. This contrasts with the nuclear “I Am Become Death”, a gothic dirge. There is a middle section that sounds like the wind blowing through a wasteland. Then, a backwards guitar section that foreshadows part of Flying in a Blue Dream. Finally, “Saying Goodbye” is a brief but tender ballad as Joe is known to do. It is constructed from gentle volume swells.
It’s clear from this record that Joe was going to be a formidable composer, let alone player. Just as interesting as the guitar work are the arrangements. They are all meticulously constructed, and though some tracks are more listenable than others, they all make up a snapshot of who Joe Satriani would become. Within three years of its release, Joe would change rock history by Surfing With the Alien, his talents now fully expressing themselves. The Joe Satriani EP is an experimental prototype to the genius to come.